At the Maasai Mara

Today we flew to the Maasai Mara, which is different in many ways from our last location. It’s more tropical, more lush than the Laikipia region. I loved watching the terrain change as we flew south.

This will be a brief post because I’m writing it in main building: they only have wifi in this building, not in our tents. And we are getting up super early in the morning for a sunrise hot air balloon ride. Tomorrow afternoon we’ll have some down time and I’ll make up for today’s brevity. 

So I’ll just give you a picture of the mama cheetah we saw on our afternoon game  drive.

Mama Cheetah

Mama Cheetah

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Our Last Day in the Laikipia Conservation Area

A pack of hyenas, with warthogs in the background

A pack of hyenas, with warthogs in the background

Today started with a long game drive. We saw the “usual suspects” – warthogs, gazelles, elands, impalas, elephants, giraffes, guinea fowl, various kinds of plover, white rhinos, superb starlings, and zebras. In addition, we saw some black rhinos, which are much more aggressive than the white ones. I had a good opportunity to see how the head shapes are different between the two species. We also got a good closeup look at a pack of hyenas in their burrows, including young ones. They are really interesting animals and I could watch them all day.

At the Equator

At the Equator

Next we paid a visit to the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, which was started with the assistance of Jane Goodall to provide a place for mistreated chimps to spend the rest of their lives. They live a quiet, safe, relatively natural life there. Then we went to the equator, and stood in that liminal space between the halves of our globe.

We also saw two more lionesses and two cubs. One of the lionesses wore a tracking collar for conservation purposes. On our way back to the camp for lunch, we saw some Sacred Ibis and Marabou Storks.

The second outing was later in the afternoon. We saw weaver birds and the nests they build in Acacia trees, got a good look at a jackal, and saw more of the usual suspects. The warthogs are really interesting because they hang out with just about all the other animals (except lions, that we could see), and nobody bothers them or minds, not even the hyenas. At the end of the drive, our driver surprised us by taking us to a sunset party that the Mutara Camp held for our whole Micato group. A fire, beverages, and snacks as we watched the sun set over a small lake. It was beautiful, and such a sweet gesture to celebrate our stay.

Tomorrow morning we head to the Maasai Mara.

I’ll just leave you with a photo of our bed as the turn-down service left it for us. There are a hot-water bottle and mattress warmer in there too, for these chilly nights.

Our mosquito-netted bed, lit up and lovely

Our mosquito-netted bed, lit up and lovely

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So Many Animals

I have to apologize up front for this being a sketchy kind of post. It’s been a huge day, and we get up early tomorrow for another huge day. I promise I will do a photo journal post at the end with better details.

Mick and Ann in Kenya, with a mama elephant and her baby in the background

Mick and Ann in Kenya, with a mama elephant and her baby in the background

Today we flew from Nairobi to Laikipia, about a 45-minute flight. This area is a combination of open plains and scrub land. The landing strip was gravel, and there was one tiny building. Zebras and gazelles greeted us on landing. We split into three groups and boarded the three Land Cruisers that awaited us. The three-hour drive to Mutara Camp was full of wildlife, and we stopped and watched and took pictures the whole way. Our driver was Dennis, and he not only drove, but spotted animals and birds for us. Our companions were fun and interesting. Susana kindly took a picture of Mick and me with elephants in the background, which I’ve posted.

On that drive, animal life included elephants (a family group), Thompson’s gazelles, wart hogs, zebras, Cape buffalo, white rhinos, elands, impalas, reticulated giraffes, jackals, and Grant’s gazelles. Birds included lilac-breasted rollers, crowned plovers, superb sparrows (which have the most gorgeous blue wings and are indeed superb), a Kori Bustard, Egyptian geese, and Guinea fowl.

Our “tent” at Mutara Camp

Our “tent” at Mutara Camp

Our accommodations at Mutara Camp are truly luxurious.

After lunch at the camp and a little break, out we went again for another game drive. More elephants, this time 8 single males, a black-headed heron, a hyena, some Olive baboons (which sleep at night in utility towers), some Dasa waterboks, and THREE LIONESSES!!! A mother and her two half grown daughters. Incredible.

Tomorrow will bring a whole new set of adventures.

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A LONG Travel Day Followed by Giraffes

It’s Saturday evening, and I’ll just start by saying that I am still jet-lagged and not totally together yet, having arrived last night at midnight after a 29-hour travel “day”, in this time zone 7 hours ahead of home. 

Appetizer course - Dinner on Qatar Air

Appetizer course – Dinner on Qatar Air

We flew from Columbia to DFW (yes, that seems like the wrong direction!) and then caught our Qatar Air flight to Doha, Qatar. That was the longest leg, around 14 hours. But we flew business class, where you get private pods. Mick and I had pods next to each other with a divider that could be lowered.  The seats can flatten out into beds, and they even give you pajamas (that you can keep). The flight attendants were wonderful, and the food was both beautifully presented and delicious.

In Doha, we transferred to our flight to Nairobi. The Doha airport is probably the most organized airport I’ve ever been in. When we went to our gate, they checked our passports and scanned our boarding passes, then sent us into a departure lounge where the seating was set by boarding group. An eagle-eyed flight attendant was ON IT regarding keeping everyone in order (while remaining completely polite and professional). 

The last flight was “only” 5 hours, and everything went smoothly. Business class again, but no pods this time. We are so spoiled now….. Once in Nairobi we had no issues getting through passport control. Before we left home, we had had to do two surveys online about COVID and our vaccine records. We had to show proof that we’d done those in DFW before getting on our flight to Doha, and again getting off the plane in Nairobi. But that actual information was tied to our passports and made getting into Kenya painless in that regard. We just had to show our passports and visas.

We were then met by Micato staff, and they whisked us and our bags through customs and onto vans and away to our hotel. Interestingly, there are armed guards outside the closed gates to the hotel driveway, and our luggage got sniffed by a dog checking for drugs, explosives, who knows that else? before we were allowed through the gates. Then we had to send our hand luggage through an x-ray scanner and walk through a metal detector before we could enter the hotel. Fortunately, after all that, our room is VERY nice and we managed to get a few hours of sleep. 

Honey straight from the comb

Honey straight from the comb

Today’s adventure started at 7:00 am local time, when we got up, got dressed, and had an amazing breakfast at the hotel buffet. Beautifully arranged, incredible variety, and even fresh passion fruit, which I LOVE. Honey was provided by a honey comb dripping over a v-shaped trough which ran down into a bowl. Then our safari group met for the first time, and headed out to the Nairobi Giraffe Centre. There we got to pet and feed giraffes, and I am in love now with their soft dark eyes and gentle demeanor. In this picture, I have food in my right hand and you can see her tongue sticking out for me to put some on there for her.

Feeding and Petting a Giraffe

Feeding and Petting a Giraffe

Then, after a leisurely three-hour lunch, we headed over to Karen Blixen’s house, who was the author of the memoir “Out of Africa”. She wrote that book under the pen name Isak Dinesen in order to be taken seriously as a writer. Can you spell “sexism”? I knew you could. Anyway, that home is now a museum and was lovely and interesting. 

We were back at the hotel by around 4:30, greeted by a different sniffer dog and another trip through the metal detector. A quiet evening is just what we needed, since tomorrow we get up REALLY EARLY so we can have room-service breakfast and leave the hotel at 6:30.

The bush adventure begins!

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Getting Ready for Africa

Map of Safari Itinerary

Map of Safari Itinerary

I woke up this morning with a million things racing through my mind.

Thursday – that’s tomorrow!! – we are going to Africa. A luxury safari starting in Kenya, to be specific, followed by Tanzania.We are traveling with Micato Luxury Safaris, going on the Hemingway Wing Safari.

We’ve been preparing for months: getting visas and appropriate clothing; shots for typhoid, yellow fever, and hepatitis; and acquiring malaria medication and a large variety of first-aid kit supplies. Micato has been truly wonderful about providing everything we need to know. They even sent us suitcases that meet their size requirements for the bush planes. Yesterday the real frenzy of “what are we packing, and how, and what did they say about…??” and detailed review of packing lists truly set in. 

There are a lot of things that have to be in order. Paperwork including passports and visas and of course our proof of COVID-19 vaccinations. Tanzania requires proof of yellow fever vaccination, so we have that. We will have both printed and e-copies of everything. No plastic bags: Kenya does not allow any kind of single-use plastic bags in the country, not even ziplocks for liquids to go on airplanes. The penalties are very steep if they find even one in your luggage. So we have had to find reusable alternatives, which is actually good.

There are strict weight requirements for what we can take on the safari itself (33 lbs for bag & carry-on combined), so we are weighing everything as we go. “Excess” baggage with things we want only for the flights between home & Nairobi can be left with Micato staff in Nairobi for the in-country duration, so there’s leeway in that regard.

I think at this point that everything we need has actually been acquired, and we can start packing and checking things off the list. Our flight out from Columbia isn’t until early afternoon, so the more ready we get today the more relaxed tomorrow morning can be. A friend will be coming over to feed the cats and check on the house every day, so that’s taken care of.

I will be blogging about our amazing trip every day. You are welcome to subscribe (even temporarily) if you don’t already and would like to get those posts emailed to you. Just use the “subscribe” function over on the right.

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My New Love – Encaustic Painting

I just got back from another wonderful class at John C. Campbell Folk School – this time it was encaustic painting. Now, I am not a painter, per se. My only 2D art endeavors are collage and making my own papers for collage, book arts, etc. But this looked like an interesting class, and even better, my sister was also interested. So she flew in from Texas and we took the class together.

For those who are not familiar, encaustic painting is an ancient technique that uses paint made from a mixture of wax, pigment, and resin. You melt that and apply it to your surface, then use a heat gun (or propane torch, for the brave and experienced!) and melt it to varying degrees of liquidity depending on the effect you want to create. It allows for layering, surface texture, image transfer, use of oil paint, India and alcohol inks, and even embedding objects in the wax. Everything you know about color mixing and composition comes into play, with the addition of the chaotic flow of melted wax. It is completely entrancing.

As a beginner, of course what I am creating right now is clumsy (at best). But I am enchanted enough that I’m willing to keep playing with it and learning more. I’m finding lots of inspiration on Pinterest. And my guiding light right now is Ira Glass’s advice to beginners, about being willing to keep producing “bad” work and accept that it will take a while before my skills match my taste.

So I’ve committed to doing some encaustic something every day now, in those morning art hours that I talked about earlier in the year. I kind of got away from that for a while, but I’m back. Today’s picture is of a piece created by our instructor, Brian Dunning, that he made to illustrate many of the techniques we learned last week. I was so inspired by it, and love it so much, that I bought it from him.

Balloon Girl Encaustic Painting by Brian Dunning

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Two Hours a Day – Who Knew?

My new schedule of “no electronics in the morning, 2-3 hours making art first thing” is successful beyond anything I expected!

By having this time every day, I am able to give myself permission to do just so much, then stop, knowing I can pick up again the next day. This is incredibly freeing. Not getting distracted by Facebook or email or a book or the news means I get started on creative ventures early, and by midday I’ve accomplished enough to feel satisfied. I can happily move on to other things.

Paper Dyed with India Ink

Papers Dyed with India Ink

Paper beads and a quote by Sir Francis Bacon printed then dyed

Paper beads and a quote by Sir Francis Bacon printed then dyed

This week I’ve done more dyeing of paper with India ink, and started making paper beads with the results. I like these very much and while I’m making them I’m thinking about ways to use them.

I’ve also found that when I print with my ink-jet printer on mixed-media paper, the results are waterproof! That paper can be dyed, glued, etc. without bleeding.


Which opens up a whole other universe of possibility, because now my digital art skills can come into play. My first project will be a set of Inspiration Cards printed, dyed, and collaged to paper cloth. Yes, I am stealing like an artist (thank you Austin Kleon) with this idea – inspired by a project idea in Stitch Alchemy by Kelli Perkins.

I think I have to delve into paper folding soon too, especially to make pop-up shapes. It’s just all too much fun. Cheers until next time.

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Paper Arts in the New Year

Happy New Year, everyone!

In this new year, I am focusing on how to spend the right amount of time making art every day. Too little, and I feel like I’ve missed out as time whips by. Too much, and I feel burned out and end up skipping other things I really need to do. Here’s what I’m trying right now: in the morning, at breakfast, I no longer look at Facebook or the news. Instead, I spend time with one of my art books getting inspired. Then I go into my studio (which I am trying hard to keep as a phone- and tablet-free area in the morning) and play around with art stuff. Meditate. Journal. I stop at lunch and then spend the afternoon exercising, spinning, reading, cooking. whatever. NOT art. This schedule is definitely a work in progress but it’s going in the right direction.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m really getting into paper arts right now. This week’s projects include folding paper into squares and strips, and dying them with India ink, as well as making more paper cloth to use as a substrate for mixed media work. It’s been fun using things I’ve learned about color in my classes at USC. These two examples of folded paper are each dyed with complementary colors (opposite on the color wheel).

Paper folded and dyed with India Ink

Paper folded and dyed with India Ink

Paper Cloth with Dyed-paper add-ins and alcohol ink drops

Paper Cloth with Dyed-paper add-ins and alcohol ink drops

The great thing about India ink is that once it dries, it’s waterproof, so you can use dyed paper in other wet applications and it won’t bleed. I cut up one of my less favorite dying experiments and added it to one of my new paper cloths pieces, and I like the way it came out. The dots in that one are alcohol ink just dripped on.

In another piece of paper cloth, I added India ink to the glue used to make the paper cloth in order to get color added right up front. I used violet first, then added in some blue to make blue-violet and used that as well for a two-tone look. Then I dripped some yellow alcohol ink to add to the visual interest. I learned something there – the dripper top to that bottle is wider than the one I used for the other piece, so the dots are MUCH bigger and I had less control over the result. But it will be fine as I work more with it after it dries.

Paper cloth with India Ink added to the glue

Paper cloth with India Ink added to the glue and yellow alcohol ink drops

Here’s a secret about me: I’m terrible about keeping track of what I do. Working intuitively is great, but if I don’t write it down or take pictures it’s really frustrating later when I try to remember how I did something. So part of my New Year plan is to make notes for myself AND use this blog to do just that – provide updates and pictures about the various stages of projects as I work on them. Stay tuned!

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Ending Another Year

They just fly by so quickly, don’t they? It’s been 6 months already since my surgery that I talked about in my last post. I have healed well, although I still have pretty gnarly-looking incisions. Apparently it will be another six months before THOSE are calmed down. But life is essentially back to normal in every other way, and I am very happy with the results.

I’ve taken some very interesting classes this late summer and fall, mainly focusing on paper and book arts. I’m enjoying that very much and will be learning and doing more with that. Today’s picture is of a hand-bound journal that I just finished. Next project: luminaria of some sort from my fabulous newly-acquired book “Paper Illuminated” by Helen Hiebert.

Hand-Bound Journal

Hand-Bound Journal

Cheers and wishes for the happiest of holiday seasons for all as we wind down into winter.

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The Years of Lightening Up

Some of you will remember that my mother died just over two years ago, and that has prompted a huge evaluation of my life and honoring of my own mortality. If I have (with luck) a third of my life left to go, what am I doing with that precious time???

I am grateful that I no longer have to go to a job – retirement is sweet, indeed. And leaves me full luminous days for my own passions. Three times, now, since my mother died, I have walked through Inanna’s Descent and each time I have been transformed. “Lighten Up” has been a repeated theme – possessions, activities, attitudes, relationships, and this year literal physical changes. My aging body no longer tolerates lactose, cruciferous vegetables, and more (I’m still figuring some of that out). As a result of having to change what I eat, I’ve lost several pounds without effort. I’m also very ready to alleviate the load on my back and shoulders by having breast reduction surgery – scheduled for June. And out of sheer vanity I’m having brachioplasty at the same time – no more bat wings.

Collage PapersPart of lightening up in attitude is taking a more playful approach to, well, as many things as I can. And allowing myself No Excuses for procrastination, especially towards my creative processes. I’m learning new skills and having fun. I’ve been trying my hand at Art Journaling, which includes glue and watercolors and no rules, just a box to play in. As a 60+ student at U of SC I’m taking Color and Composition this term, and I have gained a whole new comfort level with acrylic paint, use of color, and mixing my own colors. Last weekend, I saw an ad for a mixed-media collage class to make Tiny Tattered Houses with Jennifer Chamberlin at The Maker Beehive, signed up, and really enjoyed it. Today’s pictures are of some of the collage papers I made for that. Now that I’m vaccinated (2nd shot next Wed) I’m taking three different classes at John C Campbell Folk School later this year.

Collage Papers And I have no idea how to wrap this up. It is not the post that I intended to write, but it’s the one that happened. I’m just going to stop and let this be.

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